It's A Funny Ol' Game in 2015/16, And Arsenal Look Like Laughing Last


Back before the foundation of the Premier League, and the point at which cash began to condition football to such a degree that some of the game’s ingrained unpredictability was taken out, there was a famous line from the great Jimmy Greaves that used to do the rounds.

It was a catchphrase with an earthy charm, but that was also when it was an earthier game. He perfectly captured that ingrained unpredictability, that idiosyncratic capacity for the sport to surprise you in the quirkiest ways, to suddenly invert what we think we know.

“It’s a funny ol’ game.”

It also perfectly describes this season, and has warranted repetition on more occasions and after more games in this campaign than pretty much any other in the last 23 years.

So much about 2015/16 remains so difficult to comprehend, except maybe we’ve got to accept the idea that’s going to be the case for the entire season: it’s going to keep defying expectation and, occasionally, logic.

With 16 games gone, after all, the table should be starting to level out but this weekend was one of the most chaotic yet.

Sunday summed it up with both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool initially dominating possession and chances in their matches, but only getting a point between them. Newcastle United, to give them their due, went from a team who looked a rabble just two weeks ago to one which fully deserved their late win at White Hart Lane. A side that had seemed devoid of character gave the ultimate display of character by hitting a stoppage-time winner.

There was no such display from the team that mastered that quality in the Premier League era, as Manchester United again looked so dismally insipid against Bournemouth. It wasn’t even the despair of another bad result - the fifth without a win in a row - but the lack of hope in anything they did.

The worst criticism you could have of Louis van Gaal right now is that he has sucked all spirit and life out of United. It’s just so flat. There is never any sense in any game that they are actually building to anything.

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That very problem, however, raises another relevant point about this campaign.

It’s hard not to think it’s precisely the sort of season where, if Alex Ferguson were still around, United would put on the kind of business-like displays which would win them the league.

Jose Mourinho looked like he would be the United manager’s replacement in that regard, until this season’s unprecedented troubles. He also gave a pre-emptive response to that very question on Friday.

“But the reality is some clubs are doing so well and some other clubs are not capable of doing what people are used to. It's not easy for the top clubs any more to win three, four, five, 10 matches in a row.”

That in itself raises another question, however. Is that reality down to the top clubs under-performing, or down to one of Mourinho’s other grand theories that season - that the TV money is bolstering the mid-level sides to the point that the entire Premier League is just so much more competitive?

The truth is probably somewhere in between. Of course, teams like Crystal Palace and Everton have more about them than usual and can withstand the bigger clubs attempting to sign their players, but the bigger clubs have more problems to solve too.

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Chelsea’s issues have been discussed more than any, and we’ve been through United here.

City can waver between brilliant and brittle in the space of two weeks, and don’t seem to have the inherent mental hardness to generate real consistency. Arsenal have possibly become the most stable of the lot, but there is still the slight feeling that they’re not fully there as a side, that they could still do with enhancement. They could still go up a level.

This season, though, that still might be enough - and despite Arsene Wenger’s same old issues with injuries and signings arising.

Wenger would no doubt allow himself a chuckle at that, amid the celebrations. 

It would be a funny old season.

 

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